Ourai no Gahkthun is the 6th game of Liarsoft’s beloved steampunk series, released back in 2012 and localized in December of last year. For those unaware of it, the series consists of games happening in the same universe, around the same time, give or take a decade or two. And that universe is an engine-filled, fantastic portrayal of a world very similar to ours. In this game, you see the world through the eyes of Neon, a typical young girl frequenting the Marseille Offshore Academy, a school-city on an island somewhere in France – you’ll also follow a transfer student called Nikola Tesla, a super-powerful lightning meister dressed in pure white.
The game has three main things going for it, and they show at the very start. The artwork is good, the music is good, and the prose is good. This helps to set the tone for the VN, and because of those aspects, it starts off as a fairly enjoyable experience. The fact that this game has good prose makes even its relatively uninspired school setting reasonably interesting. While the first chapter isn’t going to succeed at selling you the characters or the story going on, it can actually get you somewhat invested in its setting. Similarly, I often found the music helps you get through some very boring scenes, and while it’s not anything new or revolutionary, all of its songs do fit their scene. The artwork being good also does wonders for the general atmosphere of the game – both the CGs and the sprites are very good at conveying emotions.
It doesn’t manage to sell you its characters for a reason, however, and that is painfully clear in most chapters. All of them feel rushed and the characters lack direction. This is true for the entire cast, not just Neon and Tesla, but it’s more obvious when seeing the male supporting cast, which is almost infuriating. Putting it bluntly, the game cares so little about them that it always, without exception, fails to develop them as characters. Two very important members of the cast are subject to that failure to an extent I may actually have never seen before. One of them serves as a generic first villain, and he stays that way. The other one serves as a generic mastermind-like figure, and while they tried to make him cool, his writing isn’t very consistent, and it’s really obvious that they had no idea what they wanted to do with him.
Another character who also had the potential to be important and relevant, quite literally appears out of nowhere in a scene that’s supposed to be very emotional. He then proceeds to be introduced in a few lines, have a little dialogue and leave, never to be seen again. This is really incompetent writing, and the game would probably be better off without him. This ties back to all the other characters. To some extent or another, all of the antagonists feel like empty husks. When you take a step back and think about what’s going on, most of the motivations behind the actions of the involved characters feel unfinished.
As we’ll see in a while, the game has a structure for its chapters that it follows to a fault, and to make the characters fit that structure, the story is more than happy to have those characters constantly make several leaps in their reasoning. They are aware of it, and decide to try to make it okay through what can only be described as a Deus Ex Machina for villain motivations, which is not only incompetent, but also really lazy. They subject even the best members of the female supporting cast to that Deus Ex Machina, because the story wouldn’t make any sense without it. The reliance on that to create their chapters honestly goes to show how they failed with character creation and development, and out of all of the recurring tropes you’ll see in Gahkthun, that one is quite possibly the worst. Story-wise, the game isn’t much better… The character failures described above affect it a lot, in a very negative way. There is a discrepancy of quality between chapters in-game, but none of them are too good. The story often feels bloated because of excessive, boring slice of life and conflicts that feel pointless, put in the story carelessly more because they needed to have something to occupy the reader’s time and try to give a small sense of closure than because of anything else. That carelessness often shows, and even at its best moments, Gahkthun story will feel below average.
Now, to structural issues. Gahkthun, like other games of the series, has a very episodic nature. Every chapter of the story, save for the finale, has the same structure, which may seem charming at first, but is a real problem when you’re dealing with a long, story-driven game. And it’s a problem because it follows that structure very rigidly. That is to say, after you’ve read the second chapter, you know how every chapter is going to start, be presented, and end. In every single chapter, a character with a problem is presented. Then there are some SoL scenes with Neon and her friends, and some SoL scenes with Tesla and Neon, then you get to know that character a little bit, then Tesla will fight them, and Tesla will win, finally they make peace with one another and the next chapter starts. This makes the game’s story much more akin to a children’s cartoon.
There is little worse in a story than when you know that, other than becoming friends with a new character or solving someone’s problem, the game’s status quo will remain mostly unchanged. It removes any trace of surprise from the story, as well as any excitement for what’s coming next, and it gets really boring really quickly. This is especially true of the game’s fighting scenes. Unlike most other games in Liarsoft’s steampunk series, the fighting scenes are actually fairly long. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem, but it is here, mostly because of presentation issues. Tesla is a very strong character from the very beginning, and he’s shown to be stronger than all of his foes. Very rarely do these fight scenes create any tension or make any real sense. Mostly, they’ll be there because “we need to have a fight scene” and not only do they have those presentation issues, the repetition in their presentation and the way they go about it in such a cliche manner makes the scenes essentially pointless, serving no other purpose than to show off another of Tesla’s myriad of special attacks and how cool he is.
So, should you play Gahkthun of the Golden Lightning? Probably not. Gahkthun is very much a below average experience that is quirky and unpolished at its best and hopeless and lazy at its worst. Gahkthun’s structure constantly undermines its story, which would already have several problems without that, anyway. While people who aren’t bothered by that can have some fun with it, I definitely wouldn’t recommend it to a normal reader.
Want a second opinion? Check out our other review from Decay here!